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Devolution: England

Volume 729: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2011

Question

Asked by

My Lords, surely the Minister will agree that now that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have control over all their own domestic matters through devolved parliaments, this leaves a democratic deficit in England. Will the Government now consider bringing forward the only proposal that will provide a stable and equitable solution to this problem, namely a UK federal system and a devolved, elected Parliament for England?

My Lords, I am sure we can have an interesting debate on this question, because a devolved English Parliament within a federalised UK has been one of the proposals put forward in the past to deal with the West Lothian question. I think the noble Lord would admit that this is not without its complexity. The Government have committed to the establishment of a commission to investigate the West Lothian question, and we would not want to pre-empt any conclusions that that commission may come to.

My Lords, why is it taking so long for the Government to establish this commission? Surely the point being made by the noble Lord is that it is ridiculous that we should have Labour MPs from Scotland voting on English matters which are devolved in Scotland, where English MPs have no such say. This was a fundamental tenet of our manifesto commitment, so when can we expect this commission to be appointed? Before the Recess, I hope.

I think my noble friend will know that the programme before the Recess is rather congested. However, I reassure him that the commission will be appointed this year. It is important to get its terms right. This is a complex issue. All noble Lords who have discussed or investigated it will know about its complexity. It is important to get the right question and therefore the right answer.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord realises that the best way to get fairness into the whole issue is for the Government to accept the amendment that I have indicated I will move to the Scotland Bill to implement what the House of Lords Select Committee unanimously recommended to the House—that the Barnett formula should be changed so that it is based on need. Will the Government accept that?

We will certainly have an opportunity to debate the noble Lord’s amendment as the Scotland Bill will shortly come to this House. In the mean time, one of the aspects of devolution which the commission will investigate is the whole question of funding. I reassure the noble Lord that the Barnett formula will loom large in its considerations.

That is not for me to say; I guess that is for the English people to say. Given that roughly 85 per cent of the membership of the House of Commons comes from English constituencies, one of the solutions may be not to change the devolution settlement in respect of England.

My Lords, surely the outcome of the commission that the noble Lord has said the Government will set up within the year will have an impact on consideration of Lords reform. Given that, does the noble Lord agree that we had better wait to see the outcome of the commission’s work before bringing legislation before your Lordships' House?

I have just been exhorted by my noble friend Lord Forsyth to ensure that the Government tackle this process robustly. I think he is correct in that regard. The commission will, of course, evaluate the consequences of Lords reform when deciding in what way the Chambers of the House might operate, if its solution is a parliamentary one.

My Lords, in recognising that British people no longer live in a unitary state, rather than have a top-down solution suggested by the Government or anyone else, would it not be better to seek the views of the English citizens of this country, and take a lesson from the experience in Scotland of having a convention to discuss these matters deliberately over a period so that all good ideas can be ventilated and the most popular selected?

I hope that the commission will inform any such debate which may occur. That is the reason why the Government want the advice of the commission, which can take evidence, consider all the proposals and come to conclusions which are practical and desirable for the governance of this country.

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance to those of us who live in England that the commission will look at the English regions and not just at a parliament for England as there are great differences in need between the north-west of England, the north, the south-west, and London and the south-east? I would like that assurance, particularly as the north-west, along with the north, has suffered disproportionately under the Barnett formula.

My Lords, I am sure that regional aspects will come into the commission’s discussions but the noble Baroness will know that the last time a vote on a regional assembly was held, the people of north-east England voted against such an assembly.